Brad Kaaya wasn’t even supposed to start in his freshman season at the University of Miami, but at age 18 in 2014, he was the best available quarterback for the Hurricanes. When fifth-year senior Ryan Williams suffered an ACL injury during spring practice in April 2014, that opened the door for Kaaya and he hasn’t looked back since.
In his first year under center, Kaaya threw for 3,198 yards, 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. While his touchdowns decreased last season due to time missed because of a concussion he suffered against Clemson, Kaaya was more efficient in his sophomore season in Coral Gables.
The Los Angeles native increased his completion percentage from 58.5 to 61.2 percent while throwing 16 touchdowns and only five interceptions.
As he will enter his junior season playing under new head coach Mark Richt, Kaaya is among the early top 15 favorites to win the 2016 Heisman Trophy Award. Kaaya is a 33-to-1 favorite to claim the most prestigious award in college football.
While he may be behind top contenders Deshaun Watson, Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffery, Kaaya is in the conversation for this year’s award.
Here are three reasons Kaaya could win the Heisman in 2016:
1. Mark Richt’s arrival will mean bigger numbers
Despite being run out of Athens after 15 seasons at the University of Georgia, no one can deny Mark Richt had a successful tenure. Richt went 136-48, with two SEC championships and six SEC East Division titles.
While Richt’s tenure at Georgia didn’t end the way he would have liked, he has had an excellent track record with successful quarterbacks. From 1990-2000 while at Florida State, Richt coached two Heisman winners (Charlie Ward, Chris Weinke) when he was the Seminoles’ quarterback coach and offensive coordinator.
Also while at Georgia, Richt coached former 2009 NFL Draft No. 1 overall pick Matthew Stafford, who developed into a premier passer under his head coach’s tutelage.
Miami’s offense should be more wide open in Richt’s offense, which should translate into bigger numbers for Kaaya and his targets in the passing game.
2. Talent on offense
Miami isn’t very deep on offense, but there is quite a bit of talent surrounding Kaaya in 2016. Stacy Coley decided to return for his senior season after flirting with leaving early for the NFL. In Richt’s offense, Coley could surpass his 2015 numbers when the Pompano Beach native caught 47 balls for 689 yards and four touchdowns.
Returning tight ends Standish Dobard, Chris Herndon and David Njoki should become bigger threats in the red zone with the departure of Rashawn Scott. The trio combined for 47 receptions in 2015 and that should increase.
Miami also has a couple of new wide receivers that could contribute this season. Sam Bruce and Dionte Mullins are each highly regarded and recruited heavily. Miami also will welcome junior college transfer Dayall Harris, who began his career at Ole Miss.
If you add all of those players up and include running backs Joseph Yearby and Mark Walton, the Hurricanes have as much offensive talent as they have had on their roster in years, something Kaaya should benefit greatly from.
3. Offensive line should improve
It doesn’t matter if you’re Kaaya or Tom Brady; every quarterback needs time to deliver the ball in the pocket. Miami’s offensive line was inexperienced last season and that was painfully obvious at times. With a year under its belt, the Hurricanes’ front line should improve in 2016.
Getting Nick Linder and Sunny Odogwu, who were out during spring practices because of injuries, back on the field should provide immediate dividends. During the spring game in April, the overall play of the offensive line was a bit of a mixed bag. When Linder and Odogwu return this fall, that should change.
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.